crumbs bird Hevria Emily Zimmer
removing the crumbs from my soul

Crumbs Here, Crumbs There But Can I Decrumb My Soul?

I open the hallway closet and choose my weapon. I go for the broom and dustpan. I drag the broom across the kitchen, noticing the way its bristles stick in the ick of the almost-cracks in the floor. I don’t usually sweep, instead, I go straight for the Swiffer and it’s wonderfully convenient pre-soaked mopping pads, but in honor of Pesach, I choose to sweep.

I make my way from the kitchen to the hallway, painting invisible brush strokes across the floor, gathering dust bunnies and crumbs, and unrecognizable pieces of food into the open lips of the dustpan. I admire the pile on the floor. It’s size, shape, diversity. I look closely at it and start to notice the individual crumbs mixed into the flour that fell from the pre-made pizza crust I had just prepared to put in the oven. I look even closer and see my struggles, my anxiety, the bad things I’ve said about other people. I think about the rising dough, the gooey cheese, Chametz at its finest. The instructions said to bake the pizza for eight minutes, but I know these things take about double that time to truly rise to their potential, at least in an oven as faulty as mine.

Passover hurries around the corner and catches its bus. It’ll be in any moment now and I haven’t opened the Haggadah or studied any Torah or done any Teshuva or finished decrumbing my dining room table. Who will redeem a person who slacks on preparation? Will I exit Egypt? Will I merit my bus ticket out of exile? Or will I sit on the local with the other crumby people like me? The other slackers savoring their last few moments to consume large amounts of homemade, doughy pizza instead of rummaging through the closets in search of any suspicious packages. All I’ve done is purchase a gigantic bag of rubber frogs to use for shtick at the Seders. Frogs here, frogs there, but where am I in all this? I think of myself and my crumbs, all of my crumbs. The burnt crumbs sticking to the inside of the oven, smoking it up every time I turn it on. The crumbs that spread like wildfire after biting into a lethally crunchy Nature Valley bar, a mess too large to conquer for anybody’s Jewish mother. I think of the slow, intentional crumbs, derived from a clear source, easily retracted and disposed of. And I think of the crumbs that sit in hidden places, in between the couch cushions, under my bed, in the pockets of clothing I don’t wear anymore. I wonder where I should look first.

It all reminds me of the story of the old man living in Eastern Europe who found great joy in speaking badly of other people. One day he shared a crumby story about a businessman that spread so far, it ended up ruining his business and reputation. When the businessman went to tell the rabbi about this, the rabbi had a good idea as to who might have been the one to spread the rumor. When the good man with the big mouth wanted to apologize, the rabbi told him to come to his study with a feather pillow. He asked the man to rip the pillow open. Confused, the man obeyed. The feathers erupted from the pillow and went in every direction. Feathers here, feathers there, but where is the man in all this? The rabbi commanded the man to retrieve the feathers, each and every one of them. Of course this was impossible and quickly became a metaphor for gossip mongering. Once you throw bad words into the wind, it’s impossible to retrieve them and for others to un-hear them.

I think of all the crumbs I’ve made this year. Crumbs here, crumbs there. Where is G-d in all this? It’s impossible to collect each and every crumb. Crumbs on the kitchen floor that may or may not belong to me. Crumbs that fall from toast, and bagels, and cereal. The crumbs in the corner of the kitchen, in the corner of my mouth, in my hair. Deep internal crumbs that will take me years to discover, let alone decrumb. What intensive toil must a Jew undertake to retrieve each and every feather she has released into the wind? And is she truly permitted to sell the ones she cannot retrieve?

I think of the frogs, multitudes of frogs, and feathers escaping into the wind, and each individual crumb, waiting to be scooped up and disposed of. Will I be good enough? Will I be able to rid myself of each one? Each plaguing crumb and the story that comes with it, each internal mishap, anxiety, and plague. Will a simple broom and dustpan be enough? At what point will I need to break out the bleach?

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The overwhelming smell of baked onions and bread fills the kitchen. I lift the dust pan from the floor to the trash and watch the pile slip into the garbage bag. I think of the cupboards and their stashes, each of them loaded with all types of Chametz, a few days away from being entirely forbidden to me. What’s inside of my cupboards? A box of pasta, a jar of peanut butter that’s been there since the summer, and a few cans of chickpeas. A few miscellaneous items that don’t really belong together, but somehow coexist. These items are not a meal, they do not complement each other. They do not have anything in common other than their status of Chametz, bound by date, whether expiration, or the 15th of Nissan. Tonight we tape up our cupboards, our closets, our stove tops. We use bright yellow tape, online salesforms, plane tickets — anything to keep our Chametz far away. We scrub, unclog, and search and search, until there’s nothing more to find. And that’s when we sell, we burn, we relocate. Is there an online form or a phone number I can call to rid myself of internal Chametz? Will someone purchase my struggles? My anxieties? The bad things I’ve said about other people? My crumbiest crumbs? Or will I be forced to pack them up with yellow caution tape for the next eight days or so, until they are no longer illegal, they are simply carbohydrates.

And when I say Words of Praise, thanking G-d for freeing me from exile, will I think of the taped up closets and the peanut butter from the summer that continues to hold space? Or will I think of the crumbs in the oven, now long burned off, the feathers in the pillow, now long gone, the multitudes of frogs, invading Mitzrayim, the areas in my soul where the crumbs take residence, the places where the broom just can’t reach. I’ll feel the pizza dough sitting in the pit of my stomach and hope that none of it will matter, that I’ll be good enough regardless of the crumbs that were simply too far gone to ever retrieve.

Or perhaps I will trust that my departure from Egypt will be significant — that my new emancipated self will know better than to use the Swiffer before the broom and dust pan, that to clean the crumbs from the soul, one needs something a little gentler than bleach.